Manchester: The City Years

James Ernest Mangnall

James Ernest Mangnall

Born: Belmont, Bolton, 1866, died: 13th January 1932

9th September 1912 - 1st July 1924

Ernest Mangnall was the first man to bring Manchester United trophy success – with a side containing the key members of the Blues 1904 FA Cup triumph – and was also credited with being instrumental in United’s move from Clayton (roughly where the Velodrome is close to the City Of Manchester Stadium) to Old Trafford. Clearly these are major moments in Manchester football, however City fans prefer to remember the achievements he made for the Blues.

He joined City in 1912 but the best thing about his arrival was the way it was carried out. Mangnall had been United’s leader since 1903 and had achieved so much while there that no one could ever have expected him to move. However, Manchester City were still regarded as the region’s number one club despite the problems they had faced in the early days of Newbould’s reign. City stunned the football world when they lured Mangnall from the Reds. Never before had a manager left a major club for its biggest rivals after so much success, but what made the story more of a sensation was the fact Mangnall had agreed to become City manager while still in office at Old Trafford, and that he had watched City’s opening game at Notts County when he was supposed to be with United at Arsenal. He actually remained in charge of United for the Manchester derby of 7th September 1912 at Old Trafford.

United historians dispute that Mangnall was officially their manager on the day of the derby, but leading newspapers of the period, most notably the Umpire and the Daily Dispatch, are perfectly clear that he was officially in charge. City won the Old Trafford match 1-0 despite being down to ten men for most of the game. Mangnall, according to one report, was delighted with the City win despite, officially at least, still being a red. “United speeded their manager rejoicing with two points to his new club” read one article.

The following Monday Mangnall moved into his office at Hyde Road, and within a few weeks his side were looking like Championship contenders: “Manchester City stand out boldly as the only first class team in the two divisions of the League, the Southern and the Scottish Leagues, with the highest possible points to their credit. The Citizens of Manchester have earned every point in September. Other clubs have remained undefeated, but they have not annexed the maximum marks. Nine years have passed since Manchester City commenced a campaign in this stimulating style.”

The title didn’t arrive, however Mangnall did develop a decent-looking side by the time of the First World War. In fact the Blues were proving a highly popular side to watch, so much so that the ground could hardly cope. A notorious cup match with Sunderland in February 1913 had to be abandoned due to overcrowding. Incredibly – and this is difficult to appreciate today – the team manager was also responsible for the management of the ground at this time and so Mangnall was held responsible for all matters concerning safety and crowd control as well as picking the team and buying the players. One reporter ‘Veteran’ accused Mangnall of spending too much time with the team and said: “I am rather surprised at Mr. Mangnall being caught napping, but it may be that he has been away with the team and had had little to do with the home management.”

The Blues finished fifth in Division One at the end of the 1914-5 season. During the hostilities he kept the club alive and brought some trophy success in the wartime tournaments that replaced the League.

After the war, Mangnall’s side became very popular and he had to focus on ground issues as well as team matters. As secretary-manager Mangnall was held totally responsible for all activities at Hyde Road and, with the Blues filling the 40,000 capacity on a regular basis, Mangnall regular had to face the press, the FA, the Football League, the council, and the police to explain why chaotic scenes were being experienced game after game in the streets around the ground.

In 1920 fire destroyed the Main Stand and exacerbated the problems Mangnall faced. He approached United about using Old Trafford but they met his request with terms that were ridiculed in the press. Perhaps they still felt a little aggrieved about his departure almost a decade earlier. Mangnall’s view was that City had to move from Hyde Road. Its forty thousand capacity was far too small, and the manager worked with club officials, most notably another former City manager Lawrence Furniss, to plan the development of a new ground. For many years the Blues had looked at moving to Belle Vue, and it’s believed Mangnall was the man who changed the club’s thinking. A move to Belle Vue would have been the safe option but it would not have offered the club the same potential as a move to Maine Road could. At the same time as these debates, Mangnall guided the Blues to second place in the League and their popularity increased further.

By the start of 1921-22 far too many people were missing out on watching Manchester’s favourite team. Together with former manager Lawrence Furniss, Mangnall set major plans in place for a move. Then in 1922 he announced that City would be creating an “English Hampden” on the Moss Side/Rusholme border.

In 1923 City moved to Maine Road, and in Mangnall’s final season (1923-4) he almost managed to guide City to the FA Cup Final. With the 49 year old Billy Meredith back in Mangnall’s side, City were defeated by Newcastle. That run was important as it perhaps demonstrated the reason why Mangnall had been determined to join the Blues back in 1912 for his City side attracted a few magnificent attendances including over 76,000 for a cup tie with Cardiff. At the time this was the largest crowd for any footballing fixture played in Manchester including two FA Cup finals. Mangnall knew City’s strengths and after 13 years in charge he must have felt a great deal of satisfaction at seeing such a large crowd in the stadium he had pushed for.

The following May the directors surprisingly decided not to renew his contract. Although It seems likely he may well have chosen to step down, feeling that there was little more he could achieve at Maine Road. After leaving the Blues he became a director of his home town team, Bolton, and was a significant figure within the PFA. He died of a cerebral embolism in 1932 at St. Annes.

In addition to his roles at Burnley – his first club as secretary, United, City, and Bolton, he was also the man responsible for founding the Central League and the Football Managers' Association. Today, he remains one of the most influential football administrators of all time, and although most football figures talk of his time at United first, he managed City for a longer spell and some would say, a more popular period.

Modern day football rarely remembers men like Mangnall, however his place in the history of Manchester must always remain a significant one. He restored pride and passion to the Blues and was the key figure in City’s move to Maine Road. That move enabled City to rediscover their ambition, drive, and natural position as one of England’s elite.

Mangnall should always be remembered as the catalyst for City’s regeneration during a difficult period. The fact that he walked out on United to take on the City challenge proves beyond doubt that Mangnall was a great Blue.

All history and statistical material has been produced based on the research and writing of Manchester football historian Gary James ( It is maintained by Ric Turner & Gary James. All text remains the copyright of the original contributors.

Gary's book, Manchester - the City Years: Tracing the Story of Manchester City from the 1860s to the Modern Day, is available to order on Amazon.